­
EFAC Australia

Essentials

Hi Chris, what have you been up to over the last couple of years or decades?

Hi Wei-Han. It's nice to see you. I've been travelling the world at CMS's expense for most of the last 15 years actually. Almost 3 years ago we got back from our time in Argentina working with students and the Anglican Church. Since then I spent a year working at St Jude's, I’ve done some study, and our oldest son Ben died of cancer.

...what are you up to now?

Right now I'm taking a sabbatical actually. With the ups and downs of the last while it's a good time to slow down. I'm doing a doctorate in theology relating theological knowledge and scientific knowledge: Hans-Georg Gadamer, Michael Polanyi and Richard Rorty to be precise.
Polanyi - isn't that the name of an inlet to the Russian submarine base in the Arctic?

Could be... though I somehow think you made that up.

So why so interested in these dudes with thoughts?

In a nutshell: I think that one of the key challenges which we face is defending orthodox Christian faith in the face of what we could loosely call postmodernism. It's an apologetic challenge which ranges from the very philosophical to the content of our Sunday preaching.

So where is the problem?

In the light of the success and so called certain knowledge of science, one problem is that some Christians have thought that a way forward lies in making our faith appear more scientific. But it is dangerous for Christians to buy the enlightenment view of scientific knowledge and certainty. It was Descartes' attractive project to ground belief on foundations that could not be doubted, but it turned out to be a foundation of shifting sand.

Can you give us an example?

I think the creation science movement is an extreme example of Christians accepting the norms of science. In their zeal to defend the truth of the Gospel they try to squeeze the faith into a scientific straitjacket. But ironically, at the same time that some Christians took a turn towards the security of scientific certainty, that very view of science was being called into question. And of course when the edifice which makes up that particular view of science starts to crumble, then so does the view of faith that is wedded to it. In the last 40 or 50 years, critiques of science and of the possibility of absolute and certain knowledge have led to much of what goes by the name of postmodernism.

And that's a bad thing, yes?

Well, yes and no. In one sense postmodernism is an affirmation of human humility. And theologically we ought to affirm that as a welcome challenge to human pride. But on the other hand, if such 'postmodern humility' leads to a sort of pathetic inability to affirm anything as true then it has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. So the challenge is to both affirm the possibility of holding fast to truth and at the same time to recognize what is called in the trade 'human finitude'.

It sounds dangerously like relativism to me. Does that mean that one belief is as good as another?

No. Relativism is normally the view that there is no ultimate truth, but only interpretations. Sure we are all interpreters, but some interpretations are right and some are wrong. There are many interpretations of 'the Christ event' but in the end either the resurrection occurred or it didn't. As evangelicals we are convinced that there is good reason to believe in the resurrection. But as I said: sure and certain proof along the lines of the (mistaken) model of science is not to be had.

So how is any of this relevant to say... the mission-shaped church? Or general pastoral care for a congregation?

Well I think it is relevant in a number of ways. One way is simply the trickle down effect: as we think about these things at a theological and philosophical level the conversations eventually shape the thinking of the church as a whole. More immediately, my own preaching and apologetic conversations are informed by thinking about the relationships between philosophical hermeneutics and scientific and theological knowledge. And in all of this, I don’t think there is any doubt that the huge challenge is to defend the uniqueness of Christ. We live in a context where tolerance is a creed that paints uniqueness as both an offensive and a naive concept.

Yes but hold on… What would you say to non-philosophical types who think, ‘Just explain the Gospel and convert people will you?!’

I say, great! I believe Romans 1:16. So preach it brothers and sisters! But at the same time there are many people, both non-Christians and others who have been Christians for years, who want solid answers to some of the questions that are part and parcel of recent Western thinking. We have a responsibility to them and to God to defend the Gospel in a pluralist society. And don't forget these things do hit the level of conversations in the street.
You mean today’s experimental university philosophy is tomorrow’s experiential school-gate conversation?

Yes, that’s well put. And as you said earlier, few people understood Foucault or Derrida when they lectured, but today children grow up with postmodern blood in their veins.

You mean: "What's true for you is not necessarily true for me"?

Exactly. That sort of thinking is simply normal nowadays and anyone who thinks differently is politically incorrect and considered downright rude. Of course the internal contradictions of relativism are numerous but that doesn’t stop such fuzzy thinking taking hold. It also serves as a very effective way of avoiding facing up to the rub of sin. But enough from me: I’m moving into preaching mode!

So should members of EFAC be bothered to think about these issues?

Absolutely! As evangelicals we want to boldly affirm and proclaim Jesus Christ as the truth. And we don't want to do that in a way that is intellectually ignorant. I think one of our greatest apologetic opportunities is to discern the truths and falsities of all that goes under the postmodern banner and to help people understand, that rather than being a dire threat to faith, there is much that affirms our Christian convictions. Not least that the truth is found in a person and reveals itself in relationship.

OK, can you recommend a place to start reading or looking?

Mmm… well I think the place I started years ago is a great place. The first few chapters of Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society are excellent. Highly recommended. Then there are Polanyi's works: Personal Knowledge is the big one. It's heavy going but fascinating for those interested. But I'm afraid I'm not up with the latest books in the bookshops. And after Sam McGeown's recent article in Essentials I might stick to books that have that old musty smell to them! I’m also happy for people to contact me personally for more suggestions.

What next after the studies?

A good question. I'm ordained and Anglican. I also enjoy teaching and I enjoy wrestling with the issues we've been talking about. My expectation was to return to parish life, but the upheavals of late need some time to settle down before embarking on the next step. God will lead in his good time I guess.

Chris Mulherin grew up in Melbourne, worked for Scripture Union and lectured in engineering and philosophy before moving to Argentina with CMS. In Argentina he worked with university students and was minister of the Anglican church in Tucumán. Married to Lindy, they had 5 boys until Ben died last December. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

By John Chapman, Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2009 $9.95, 96pp, paper.

This attractive small book is the most recent addition to the Guidebooks for Life series from Matthias Media. In it John Chapman helpfully addresses the ever-present tension faced by all Christians: living as a Holy Spirit-filled believer in a fallen world and body. He clearly explains “the good and the bad mingled in me” (p22) and, in a particularly helpful section, the awful nature of the devil’s work (p22-28). He delineates the opposition of “the world, the flesh and the devil” (p43), noting the dangers of focussing on one to the neglect of the others. He also addresses the dead-ends offered by various Christian groups to relieve the tension: entire sanctification (an adaptation of sinless perfectionism), a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of physical healing and prosperity in this age. Chapman critiques these forms of over-realised eschatology which unsettle faith and assurance, causing doubt and despair, especially in new believers. The book concludes with a call to obey James’ command to “count it all joy when various trials come our way... because as we wrestle with them we grow stronger in the Christian life. Contemplating the end result gives us joy in the midst of trials.” (p75) We are to persevere, with our hope set on the living God and the new creation in the world to come.

The book’s great strengths are its Biblical and theological exposition of the tension experienced by Christians, the opposition faced daily from the world, the flesh and the devil, and the disabusing of the false answers and hopes offered. This is a timely contribution to our contemporary Christian culture, both in terms of its theological clarity and its pastoral use. Chapman and Matthias deserve much thanks.

The book’s pastoral theology could be read as a little under-realised and further treatment of the armour of God and the means of grace would strengthen it. The dynamic relationship of knowing God through the gift of His Spirit, the fellowship of other believers and the comfort we receive from His word and sacraments all bring deep joy. An additional chapter or two on accessing the power to resist temptation and the peace Christ promised would compliment the struggle exposed in the preceding chapters. What does Paul mean when he states that we have been given “a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7)? How do we access this power at work in us (Eph 3:16, 18 and 20, 2 Tim 1:8)? And what does it mean to be “led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:18), praying “in the Spirit on all occasions” (Eph 6:18)?

The book is clear and readable, conveying many complex truths simply. It is well referenced from the Scriptures. It is an excellent resource for new Christians and those Christians who have not been adequately discipled in the nature of the daily Christian walk. It would also be ideal for Bible Study groups: straightforward discussion questions are included in an appendix. I highly commend it.

Adrian Lane is lecturer in ministry at Ridley Melbourne

To put one’s proverbial hand up and be considered for ordination these days, one has to be sure of certain things. Sure of God’s gospel, sure of His call on your life, sure of where He’s placed you, sure of your gifts (where they’re absent, where they’re present, where they’re spent), and sure of the Anglican Church – well within reason anyway.

Indeed the whole ‘selection for ordination’ process is designed to confirm the confident and alarm the antsy; designed to make you sure that ordination isn’t some self-deluded masterplan of your own mini-kingdom’s making. And, to be sure, I was left humbled, awed, charged with responsibility, and more or less certain that I was clear of such delusions.

Praise the Lord! He put it in my heart when I was just 15 to be a minister of his Word & Spirit. Praise the Lord for godly men and women who affirmed my gifts & call, from then till now. Praise the Lord for Ridley Melbourne where I was trained for ministry and mission (even when ministry and mission weren’t in the title!). Praise the Lord for employing me in His harvest field of Diamond Creek. To be sure, I was sure this was the Lord’s place for me.

The Blue Parakeet is a popular level introduction to hermeneutics – or ‘how we read the Bible to get meaning – applied and otherwise – out of it’. McKnight establishes his evangelical credentials early and simply: he tells his testimony of a heart strangely warmed, and a Spirit-given desire to devour the Scriptures. But McKnight soon perceived that evangelicals don't apply all parts of scripture with equally direct force. What about the Sabbath? Tithing? Widows and orphans? Giving away all we own to the poor?

McKnight moves swiftly to his theme question: How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?

Parts 1 to 3 of the book contain his main argument:

1. The Bible is Story, or the grand metanarrative of God’s history with His people. It is not a source book of authoritative laws or a grab-bag of promises for autonomous individuals. This section would perhaps be the most familiar and unsurprising to EFAC readers. We seem to have a strong tradition of teaching biblical theology and salvation history in Australia, so although his language and terminology is different, none of the concepts are surprising.

2. Our reading takes place in the context of a love relationship with the living God. God loves us, and we (presumably) love him, and we love by listening and obeying. It sounds like a motherhood statement, and the section is brief, but it is a point well worth making. The action of obedience to the Word closes the hermeneutical loop – reading the Bible isn’t just an intellectual curiosity!

3. The Church has always practiced discernment over which parts of the Bible to apply and how, using various forms of reasoning such as theological development, historical and scientific development, deeper or underlying principles. It’s a messy process, but implicit in this part is the idea that faithfulness to the Story is key.
Part 4 of the book then applies McKnight’s methodology to the question of women in ministry. I rather suspect that here is the driving force behind the book (it takes up 100 of its 230 plus pages). McKnight argues that reading the Bible with rather than through tradition reveals that the Story of the Bible moves us towards an egalitarian view of women in ministry. He details his wrestling with Scripture, which is substantial and well worth reading, and sets the argument in his own relational context: having taught women at a more conservative institution and then moved on.

This book raises more questions than it answers, but this is not a bad thing for evangelicals today. There are many important questions about how we live out the Bible in sexual and economic ethics, for example. It is a popular level book with a clear agenda: arguing for an egalitarian view of women’s ministry; but it also raises important issues about how we read and apply the Scriptures, the place of tradition and reason; and, chiefly, the intellectual honesty and rigour we bring to the Word.


Evangelicals tend to Pharisaism (I know my own sins) and we need reminders like this book. The Bible isn’t a grab bag of rules and regulations – it’s a love story between our Lord and His people – yes including us! I liked McKnight’s humility and wit, but I didn’t enjoy being left with more questions than my lazy mind has time to work out answers to! This is a deceptively easy book to read, but a great one to chew on over a long weekend. Irrespective of your view on Part 4, the whole book could be usefully applied to help us think through our obedience to Scripture in any number of areas. I’m praying that The Blue Parakeet results in more love for the Lord and His Word, and a greater ability on the part of evangelicals to graciously and lovingly discuss issues that divide us.

Jonathan Wei-Han Kuan is the editor of Essentials.

Are you any good at silent reflection? The practice is undergoing a renaissance in evangelicalism internationally. While spending time in sustained ‘meditation’ has fallen into disuse among modern evangelicals, it was a practice prized in Scripture. The Psalmists encourage reflection on Scripture (Psalm 1.2, 119.15) and on God’s mighty acts of creation and redemption (Psalm 77.12; 104.34; 145.5). This might be pondering on or musing about a topic, or continually murmuring or reciting Scripture. Paul exhorts us to think about (consider, reflect on) whatever is true, honourable, just, worthy of praise (Philippians 4.8). Consideration of daily events was also suitable for reflection: Solomon invites us to consider the ant in Proverbs 6.6, Jesus observes farming and house cleaning (Matthew 13.31-33) and Paul uses observations from soldiering, athletics and domestic management (2 Timothy 2.4, 5, 20).

The Puritans valued meditation on theological doctrines and key propositions of Scripture. They sought to fill their mind, imagination, consciousness and memory with God and his purposes. Richard Baxter (d 1691) is representative of the Puritans in seeing heaven as the foremost subject of meditation. John Owen (d 1683) particularly prized meditation ‘on the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and of His love’.

EFAC NSW was delighted to welcome the Rev Dr William Phillip as its guest speaker for the Annual Lecture held as part of the CMS Summer School at Katoomba in January this year. William (“Oor Wullie”) was present in Australia to give the Bible studies at the Summer School. He presented a very moving, engaging and faithful exposition of the events leading up to the death of our Lord as recorded in the Passion narratives of Matthew’s gospel, entitled “The Cross and Eternity”.

So it was with great delight that 250 or so EFAC members and friends gathered on the Wednesday afternoon to hear William speak about the impact and present state of evangelicalism in the Church of Scotland. For those who, like me, were largely ignorant of that Church, it was both intriguing and encouraging to hear of the ways in which strong evangelical leadership has been exercised in that denomination in the period that William spoke about, that is, from the Second World War on. By the way, the Church of Scotland is not the Church of England in a kilt. The established Church, it is Presbyterian in polity. The Church of England has its counterpart in Scotland as the Episcopal Church.

William’s father, James Phillip, a Bible commentator and preacher, was persuaded by the Rev William Still along with several others to form a group whose activities during the late 1940s and ‘50s and ‘60s would shape the Church of Scotland in a far more evangelical direction. Deliberately encouraging young men to consider parish ministry as their calling in life and giving them support and encouragement along the way resulted in a flood of new evangelical ministers into parish churches. (Sound familiar?) One of the vehicles of encouragement was the formation of what is called the Crieff Fellowship, a group, from what we could gather, much like EFAC, which is still active to this day.

Himself a product of this movement, William was able to give an objective assessment of its successes and failures. It did indeed fill Church of Scotland pulpits with Bible teaching ministers. So from the cities like Glasgow where William is the minister of St George’s-Tron, (right in the middle of the main street of Glasgow, literally), to the far-flung parishes of the Hebrides and the remote Scottish farmlands, the gospel has been faithfully proclaimed.

William, however, felt that there have been some unforeseen problems that have arisen. Ministers had not been trained to train the laity, and the result has been that, while an evangelical call sounds from the pulpit, many congregation members are far from evangelical in commitment and belief. He observed that the inroads of liberal theology have been quite substantial amongst congregation members. Indeed, during the Summer School William alerted us to the fact that on the evening before he gave his lecture his presbytery (like an area deanery) had voted to accept the appointment of an openly homosexual Minister who would live with his partner in the Manse. This is a first for Scotland, and even though a challenge has been brought against it which will be heard in the General Assembly in May, evangelicals will have to organise and fight hard to persuade the laity of the wickedness of this decision.

Before coming to Glasgow about two or three years ago, William had worked for five years under David Jackman with the Proclamation Trust in London. He has come back to Scotland at the ripe old age of 41 with a determination not only to help train up the next generations of Bible teachers but to provide ministers and churches with the tools for ministry and for equipping God’s people for ministry.

EFAC (NSW) is very grateful to Dr Phillip for his stimulating and cautionary lecture and CMS for again allowing us to use their venue to host this event.


Deryck Howell, Archdeacon of South Sydney and a long time EFAC member.

Charles Perry was the first Bishop of Melbourne, consecrated on St Peter’s Day 1847. He arrived in Melbourne on 24 January 1848, the first, and until Barker’s arrival in Sydney, the only evangelical bishop in Australia. Perry delivered his first sermon in the new Diocese in St James’ Church on the 28th.

Perry was a definite and committed evangelical, and this sermon sets out his programme and priorities for ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. Today, more than 150 years later, it still resounds with evangelical fervour, biblical clarity and humble devotion to the Lord.

Although based, as sermons typically were in that time, on one verse the entire sermon is steeped in Scripture. There are no less than 20 different scriptures cited from both Old and New Testaments and numerous other allusions besides. Phrases from the Book of Common Prayer are not so much quoted, but woven into his sentences. His verse was 2 Corinthians 5:20 -
‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God’

Subcategories

­